I must admit I have been avoiding watching ‘Julia’, the new puppet with autism on Sesame Street. You see Julia is old hat to us because for over the past 17 years we have been creating and delivering the Autism Demystification® Puppet Programs. During these years, I have seen a lot of “takes” on autism in pop culture. Unfortunately, most of these “takes” were epic fails, adding to stereo types and increasing the “us vs. them” attitudes.
So, I avoided watching Julia. My worry was that Sesame Street’s new character would undo all our hard work. However, I was pleasantly surprised at Sesame Street’s take. I only cringed twice during the episode LOL. Even though they are not teaching prosocial communication strategies, as Ollie, a
10-year-old with autism reminded us the other day. After watching the Julia episode, he pointed out, “Mom, they forgot to use Friendship Tip #4 –
they were going too fast, they need to wait for Julia to answer”.
While not “innovative”, I applaud Sesame Street for their addition of Julia. Julia does represent changing attitudes – and this is wonderful.
When I started developing and delivering our Autism Demystification® Puppet Program more than 15 years ago, educators freaked out at the puppet using the word autism. Yes, that is correct, many requested we drop the word autism from the program completely. It was like the puppets were using a 4-letter word. Also, when we started delivering our Autism Demystification® Puppet Program more than 15 years ago, self-regulating behaviours where called “stims”, dysregulation was called “melt downs” or “tantrums”, and affinities were called “perseverations”.
The focus in the autism community at that time was “cure”. You needed to “fix your broken child” through an intensive 40 hours a week of “behavioural modification”. However, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society took a completely different approach. Our focus was on understanding, acceptance and building empathy and friendships. We have worked hard over the past 15 years to change misconceptions and demystify autism. I am proud to be able to see evidence that we have been successful.
So, while Julia may seem cutting edge to the world, Julia is old hat to us at Friend 2 Friend who have had many Julia’s over the past 15 years. In fact, their names are: Min, Freddie, Angela and Angus. And of course, You Don’t Know, Jack!(animations by Iain Robbins).
Free Autism Demystification Online Course for BC Communities
In celebration of World Autism Awareness Month, Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society offers Free Autism Demystification Online Course for BC Communities. Friend 2 Friend will provide schools, school districts and other not for profit organizations our free BC Communities Capacity Program through our Autism Demystification Online Course.
Each year Friend 2 Friend Social Learning provides 5 Communities in BC with our BC Communities Capacity Building Program. This year we will offer our new Autism Demystification® Online Course free to 5 schools, school districts or other not for profit organizations in BC.
This program provides participants with the knowledge, tools and techniques to implement the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® Puppet Program curriculum with children aged 3 through 11. And works to address the needs of rural communities throughout BC by providing the training and tools to implement our Autism Demystification® Programs with children ages 3 to 11.
Participants from BC organizations will receive 14-day access to this self-directed, interactive online course that includes the following learning modules: Module 1: Introduction, Module 2: About the Society, Module 3: Guiding Principles, Module 4: What Does it Feel Like to Have Autism?, Module 5: Implementing the Program, Module 6: Wrap Up
Upon completion of the course, participants have access to a digital copy of the packaged curriculum including: the puppet play video entitled “You Don’t Know, Jack”, a course manual, and a children’s colouring story book adapted from the puppet play, as well as downloadable support materials.
For information on whether your organization would qualify Free Autism Demystification Online Course for BC Communities program please contact our office.
Go Beyond Awareness To Demystification
World Autism Awareness Day is not a special day in my life. In fact, it is just like every other day. This is because every day I work to encourage the world to go beyond awareness to demystification.
When my child started school, I watched him suffer from social isolation in the school environment. Therefore, I felt compelled to do what I could to change this situation for all children who experience social isolation and peer rejection.
In 2002, after several years of extensive research, I designed and implemented theFriend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® Programs.With the unwavering support of my husband, we then founded Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society, a not for profit, charity based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Society provides a variety of programs and services based on our signature Autism Demystification® model, as well as, the Friend 2 Friend – Integrated Play Groups programs based on the model created byDr. Pamela Wolfberg.
Fast-forward 15 years to April 2, 2017 – World Autism Awareness day. The Society is now an international organization with satellite partners, publications and twoPlay Centres.But today marks another milestone for the Society. Today we unveil our newAutism Demystification® Online Course.
There is no question that a lot has been accomplished by the Society in 15 years, but it is not nearly enough. On this World Autism Awareness Day, I challenge you to learn how to model, label, explain and normalize, and to promote friendships between individuals with autism and their peers – Going Beyond Awareness To Demystification!
Friend 2 Friend Unveils Online Course on World Autism Day
FRIEND 2 FRIEND SOCIAL LEARNING SOCIETY
Friend 2 Friend Unveils Online Course on World Autism Day
March 31, 2017
News release – For Immediate Release
Vancouver, BC – On April 2, BC-based Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society will unveil its new Autism Demystification Online Course to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.
“For the past 15 years, Friend 2 Friend has been providing our innovative Autism Demystification programs to children and their families”, says executive director Heather McCracken. “With the launch of our online course, we have taken a significant step forward in demystifying autism throughout the world.”
The self-directed course prepares participants to deliver the society’s signature Autism Demystification Puppet Program to children ages 3 to 11. “I had the privilege of participating in the review of the Autism Demystification Online Course. I appreciated the clarity of the information presented. I found the 6 modules accessible and easy to move through in terms of language use, literacy levels and multiple ways of learning approaches. The intentional use of visuals and cartoon like characters erased many perceived cultural biases that can often arise. I recommend this course.” Patricia McClelland Instructor, Northern Lights College.
McCracken, who created the Autism Demystification programs says, “Our focus is, and always has been, to promote understanding, acceptance and empathy to enhance the development of friendships between individuals with autism and their peers through our Autism Demystification programs.
“World Autism Awareness Day speaks to the profound impact that autism has had in our communities and on families. Our goal has always been to demystify the world.”
The course launches on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day. “Having adopted the Autism Demystification practices in our preparation of educators, speech-language therapists and related practitioners, I can attest to the profound impact on our schools and community. We are eagerly awaiting the online course to provide greater access and spread the effect of creating a culture that inherently values diversity and inclusion.” states Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, Professor, San Francisco State University and founding director, Autism Institute on Peer Socialization and Play
Friend 2 Friend is a non-government funded, non-profit charity that has been designing and delivering unique programs to children and families in BC, across Canada, and around the world. Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society was founded in 2002 by Heather McCracken, a Vancouver parent of three, including a son who has autism.
For more information, contact Heather McCracken at cell: 604 671 4028
Autism Demystification for Siblings Sake
After delivering the Autism Demystification® Puppet Program one day in a school in Vancouver, a little girl in Grade 2 quietly walked up to the lead guide. She said, “I really liked the puppets. I hope you can come back next year too.” The facilitator smiled at the girl and said she was glad that she liked the puppets, and the team would be happy to come back any time the school invited them.
The girl started to walk away, but then she turned and came back to the lead guide. She said, “I really want you to come back because my brother is 5. He’s coming to this school next year and he’s like the yellow-haired puppet” pointing to Angus the puppet with autism. “Sometimes he does some things and the kids don’t understand. I think if you came back, the kids in his class could do those things.” She pointed to the 7 Friendship Tips board. Then she added, “It will help my brother a lot.”
Siblings are a very important part of our lives. They are our family, our blood and often the people we grow old with. With them we share common history as well as a future. They are our first and sometimes our last playmates. They are often the people that teach us to be “good players”. Being the youngest of 4, I am very fortunate to say that my siblings did and still do that for me and I hope my three children do that for each other.
All siblings take on unique roles within a family. This is especially true for siblings of children with autism. They might become a sotto parent to their sibling, or even their biggest rival. Regardless of the dynamic, siblings (like peers) require demystification. Therefore, it is our job as parents and educators to provide Autism Demystification for siblings sake. To demystify we need to model, label, explain and normalize, as well as teach them prosocial communication strategies. This ensures that siblings have the information and skills they need to understand, accept and empathize with their siblings on the autism spectrum.
This week I watched the memorized faces of four of our players as they watched our new, “You Don’t Know, Jack” Autism Demystification® puppet play video. The experience reminded me once again that Autism Demystification – Never Gets Old.
“You Don’t Know, Jack” is the latest in our Autism Demystification® Puppet Programs. We just finished filming it a couple of weeks ago and it is currently in post-production. We wanted to “preview” it with this group because we knew these players have been keen to see it. Therefore, we decided to show it to them as a special treat during last 20-minutes of the last day of the Spring Break Integrated Play Groups® program.
These four players are what you might called experienced. In fact, two of them have been attending our Play Centre programs for several years. They have seen all our previous puppet plays live and on video. And are I would call ‘experts’ in our Autism Demystification® Puppet Programs [That’s What’s Different About Me and Can I Play Too?].
Even with all their experience, the new puppet play video was captivating for them. With popcorn in hand, I watched as they prepared for the puppet play finding comfortable spots on the crash mat. They sat together as a group not making a sound as they stared at the screen watching the video.
It was what came after the video that excited me the most. During the Pass the Puppet Circle, these four children taught us what being a good friend truly means.
This experience demonstrated once again, that even for experienced players, Autism Demystification – Never Gets Old!
Autism Demystification Online Course will provide participants with the knowledge, tools and techniques to implement the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® Puppet Program curriculum with children aged 3 through 11.
Once registered, participants will receive access to this self-directed, interactive online course that includes the following learning modules:
Module 1: Introduction
Module 2: About the Society
Module 3: Guiding Principles
Module 4: What Does it Feel Like to Have Autism?
Module 5: Implementing the Program
Module 6: Wrap Up
Upon completion of the course, participants have access to a digital copy of the packaged curriculum including: The Puppet Play entitled “You Don’t Know, Jack”, a course manual, and a children’s colouring story book adapted from the puppet play, as well as downloadable support materials. They are also receive a certificate of completion and are invited to join an interactive blog where they may post questions and share stories with other participants and the model creator.
If you are professor or instruction who feels your students would benefit from learning about Autism Demystification you are invited to participate in a one-day review the course free of charge.
Virtual Reality the Key to Friendships for Children with Autism
Virtual Reality Autism Demystification Programs
Changing the Game for children with autism and their peers.
18 months ago, I traveled to Seattle WA to visit Valve. Valve is a company that develops gaming software. I was fortunate enough to be invited to try out the Vive, at that time a new Virtual Reality system.
I am not a “gamer” and honestly know very little about gaming. Therefore, I would say I was moderately uncomfortable with the visit. However, my discomfort level left me quickly upon arriving at Valve and putting on the Vive. I was transported immediately into the deep sea where I was “swimming” with whales. I then made a meal, painted on a life size canvas and finally walked as a giant in San Francisco finding my dear friend Pamela’shouse using Google Earth. It was a remarkable experience.
On the more than 3-hour trip back to Vancouver BC, I never stopped talking about how VR could change the face of intervention for children with autism. And how VR would be a natural extension of the Friend 2 Friend Autism Demystification® programswe have been delivering for more than 15 years.
The concept is simple: The Virtual Reality Autism Demystificationprograms addresses the social and communication needs of individuals with autism. Using our signature Autism Demystification® programs, we are now creating a multiplatform VR-based educational game that enables peers, educators, parents and coworkers to understand what it feels like to have autism. Like all Friend 2 Friend programs our VRADP will go beyond understanding by teaching prosocial communication strategies to enhance social interactions and friendships. VRADP combines technology, education and gaming to enable participants worldwide to use our unique VRADP to foster understanding, acceptance, empathy and social inclusion for individuals on the autism spectrum.
I am so thrilled to be preparing to launch our “proof of concept” (as they say in the developing world) or what I call a “demo” this spring. Our very first Virtual Reality Autism Demystificationprogram.
Integrated Play Groups are Not Social Skills Programs
Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society has offered our unique Integrated Play Groups programs to children, families and schools since 2006. We are often asked about our “Social Skills programs”. But Integrated Play Groups are Not Social Skills Programs, there are important distinctions between the two. Therefore, as we approach registration time we thought we trying and clear up some on the misconceptions.
Friend 2 Friend ‘s Integrated Play Groups are Not Social Skills Programs because:
But most importantly, Integrated Play Groups are Not Social Skill Programs because the play is design and created by children, for children and led by the children. The children guide our practices, ensuring they get the supports they need to be successful in their peer social interactions, play and friendships now and for years to come.
Want to learn more about the Friend 2 Friend Integrated Play Groups programs? Contact us here.
Pencil Tapping, An Inclusive Activity Thinking Beyond the ABC’s Behaviour
Pencil Tapping, An Inclusive Activity Thinking Beyond the ABC’s Behaviour
I recently provided a full day seminar to a small group of school based professionals. During questions and answers, one of the educators asked me how I would suggest they handle the following situation:
“A boy with autism in the 5th grade is sitting in class while the teacher lectures on the heart. With his pencil, the boy taps the rhythm of a beating heart on his desk. The teacher repeatedly asks him to stop. When he does not, the teacher refuses to continue with lesson and boy is asked to leave the class.”
Answers to these types of questions are easy. Even so, I rarely answer them. Instead I ask questions to help the person asking reach the answer on their own. So, I asked the educator, “What do you think the boy was communicating to you by tapping his pencil?”
The educator said she felt the boy was bored, and perhaps “Trying to get out of class”. I challenged this notion by asking whether she thought boy was “wanting attention” or “wanting to get away”. The educator said she felt that he was in fact trying to get attention. Once she concluded that she did feel the boy was seeking attention, she then said, “I know, attention seeking behaviours should be ignored”. Her conclusion was completely correct. But inclusion means thinking outside the ABC’s of behaviour.
My area is inclusion, not behaviour, my answer is a little different. Here was my answer, “Learning about the heart is likely a pretty boring thing for most 5th graders. Perhaps this student was tapping his pencil to remain well regulated and process the information, or perhaps this student was tapping his pencil to seek attention. Unless we ask him and he can tell us, we will never know for sure. From the point of view of inclusion, let’s view the pencil tapping as the student seeking attention. Here is what I would have done. I would have said, ‘Our friend [John] is tapping the rhythm of a heart beat with his pencil. That is very cool John, great idea. Everyone pick up your pencil and let’s see if we can all tape a heart beat together’.
If the student is seeking attention, then let’s give him attention. But positive, not negative attention. Attention that ensures his classmates see him in a positive light. Attention that ensures his self-esteem is boosted not diminished.
Inclusion is a verb that requires an action. That action means thinking outside the ABC’s of behaviour and turning pencil tapping into an inclusion activity.